Keeping your users happy

By Bryan Formidoni, Unix Insider |  Software

It doesn't make a huge difference in download time, but it does avoid a redirect, which would slow down the server.



Don't ask visitors to register too soon



Most users don't want to fill out a form the first time they visit your site. They want to sniff around and see if you have anything of value to them and, if you do, they might give you their email address so you can send them information. The consumer needs to trust your site before committing to it.



The homepage



Most Websites' content competes for prominence on the homepage, making it difficult to know where to enter the site. You must figure out the path you want your visitors to take and design around that. The hard part is making sure the visual hierarchy points your users to where you need them to go. A designer's assistance is essential here. The last thing you want is for people to get lost and leave the site.



Navigation



The navigation is the backbone of a site. Here are a few tips.

  • Have the logo link back to the homepage
  • Have a search available on all pages
  • Add alt text to all images
  • Allow the sitemap link to be visible, above the fold, on every page
  • Title all your pages, and make the titles short
  • Order your information logically
  • Add link titles



Consistency blunders



You need to ensure that your users can easily figure out how to get to their destination. One mistake many novice Web designers make is naming the homepage's and interior pages' navigation inconsistently. If a button on your homepage is called About Us, don't call it Company Information on the interior. Using consistent buttons may seem logical, but many clients can't see the problem presented by labeling navigation buttons differently.


That is where usability testing becomes extremely valuable. It provides undeniable, unbiased proof that inconsistencies frustrate users. (We'll explain the how-to's of usability testing in December's column.) We also encourage developers to make navigation order consistent from homepage to all interior pages. It's not a good idea to place the support button last on the homepage and first on some interior pages, and leave it off other pages.


Always find and fix quality issues such as missing graphics or broken links, and be sure to run a spell check on your documents. Keep in mind cross-browser issues: things happen in Netscape that don't happen in IE. You also have to be aware of the upgrade and address resolution differences.


Graphic elements shouldn't only exist for aesthetic purposes but also for functional and informational purposes. Plan to edit and revise several times before publishing.


Use stylesheets to ensure that errors and production time are significantly reduced.

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